MADRID – A Spanish art museum said on Wednesday it was pleased that a United States judge had ruled it the legitimate owner of a painting stolen from its original holder, Jewish woman Lilly Cassirer, by the Nazis in 1939.
Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza, located in the Spanish capital’s so-called Golden Triangle of Art, had been locked in a legal battle with the Cassirer family for 14 years in a dispute over the rightful ownership of “Rue Saint-Honore in the Afternoon. Effects of Rain” by French artist Camille Pissarro.
“We are very satisfied that, once again, there has been a ruling in favor of the (Thyssen-Bornemisza) Foundation,” Evelio Acevedo, director general of the museum’s collection, said in a brief press statement.
Lilly Cassirer family gave up the work in exchange for her freedom as she fled the Holocaust in Nazi Germany.
The artwork traded hands several times after the war before it was acquired by art collector Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1976 and later by the museum and the Spanish government 1993 when the industrialist’s vast private collection was put on display.
Federal judge John F. Walker in California took aim at Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza for not doing a proper background check on the painting but ruled that the painting legally belonged to the museum as, under Spanish law, it is entitled to keep the work if, at the time of its acquisition, it was not aware of the fact it was looted.
However, the judge highlighted that the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum’s insistence on keeping Pissarro’s work was inconsistent with the Washington Principles, an international agreement to restore Nazi-looted art to its original owners.
Spain signed up to the arrangement in 1988.
Judge Walker said the moral thing would be to return the artwork to the Cassirer family but that he could only apply Spanish legislation.
Walker had already given a similar ruling back in 2015 but the case was returned on appeal.
It is not clear whether the Cassirer family will appeal again.